THE IRON RANGE OF MINNESOTA
The Iron Range has its origins in the Great Northwoods of Minnesota. In the late 1800’s the land was known for its rich wildlife and timber. However, by the early 1900’s Iron Ore was discovered, and with this discovery came opportunity and development.
Immigrants from over 43 countries made their homes in Northern Minnesota in the early 1900’s, often working for the mines in an effort to improve their lives and the lives of their families.
Many of these immigrants came from Italy and laid the foundations for the generations of Italians that make up the Trentini Tirolesi Club today. The most notable progenitors were the founders of the Societa di Mutuo Soccorso Tirolese de Chisholm, who established their club in 1913. Though disbanded in 1950, the roots of the club remained until a group of their descendants and other descendants of Trentino established a new club in 1995.
This club, which thrives today, consists of over 110 members with ties to all regions of the province of Trento. Some notable regions that our ancestors called home are Valle Lagarina, Val di Ledro, Valli Guidicarie, Val di Cembra, Val di Chiese, Val di Non, Val di Sole, and Val d’Adige.
We hold dear to our heritage, because we firmly believe that embracing our past enlivens our present and leads us to a wonderful future.
Before the 1880’s, the Iron Range was home to fur traders and Native Americans, the Sioux and Ojibwa. Then, marketable quantities of iron ore were discovered on the Vermilion Range in the early 1880’s and on the Mesabi Iron Range in 1892. By 1900 Minnesota led the North American iron ore industry, out producing all other ranges combined. The establishment of a major raw materials industry, in a relatively remote area and in a short period of time gave rise to over 100 town sites and mining locations. Europe provided the bulk of the labor needed for underground and open pit mining operations. In 1910, 80% of all foreign-born Minnesota residents lived in Northeastern Minnesota. These immigrants contributed to the building and expansion of the United States, providing the iron ore which was used to make steel. During World War II, when freedom was threatened, the steel was in great demand. World War II accelerated the exhaustion of many of the natural ore mines, causing the industry to turn to the processing of the lower grade, iron-bearing taconite, which radically changed the Minnesota mining industry. Instead of smaller mines and benefaction plants across the Iron Range, taconite required tremendous capital investment in large processing plants located near the taconite reserves. The hard taconite rock is crushed to a face powder consistency and the iron is extracted magnetically and rolled into marble size pellets, then it’s baked in furnaces and hardened to withstand shipping to the steel mills in cities on the lower great lakes and eastern steel mill cities.
Along with the taconite plants that are still operating, the landscape of the Iron Range is dotted with the footprints of the mines that have long since been abandoned and the huge pits where the taconite ore is mined today. These mines have now become a part of the natural beauty that sets this area apart, along with the lush forests and large abundance of lakes. The forests provide the timber for the other principal industry of this area, logging, and many mills along northern Minnesota’s rivers produce paper and lumber. Many tourists visit this area annually to take advantage of the fishing, hunting and water sports our forests and lakes provide. In northern Minnesota, we have four very distinct seasons. Our summers are pleasant (except for the mosquitoes), with temperatures at around 70 to 85 degrees. In Autumn, the leaves turn vibrant colors and the temperatures are mild. Winter is usually cold, varying from 20 degrees above to 20 degrees below zero, usually with large amounts of snowfall and Spring is full of blossoms and the return of lush green foliage and colorful flowers.
Just as important to the immigrants as building a new life in America, was making sure their children were educated. Education was free to all children from Kindergarten through 12th grade. At school, immigrant children were not allowed to speak their own languages. They were taught to speak English and night school classes in English were offered to their parents. Most children were bilingual, speaking the language of their parent’s homelands, as well as, English. They learned quickly and adopted American customs, though in their home all the traditions of their homeland were kept intact. Today that immigrant desire for a good education is continued in the new generation. Public elementary and high school education continues to be free. Minnesota has one of the highest percentages of children completing high school and going on to pursue higher education in America. Minnesota is also known as one of the healthiest states in the nation, with many wonderful medical facilities, such as the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota hospitals.
Economic depression was the cause for emigration from Trentino, during the late 1800's and early 1900’s. It was during that time when emigration to the United States was the heaviest. Families were large, jobs were scarce and they could not all live off of the land. Upon hearing there were jobs in the coal, copper and iron mines in the United States and that they could experience a better living, many left their families to seek a new life. Some of the areas of our ancestor’s origin within Trentino are: Valle Lagarina, Val di Ledro, Valli Guidicarie, Val di Cembra, Val di Chiese, Val di Non, Val di Sole, and Val d’Adige.
Upon arriving in America, many were disappointed. The work was not as abundant as they had been lead to believe. They worked long hours for very little wages and some missed their homeland. Even though they could read and write and were well educated coming from Trentino, language was a barrier and they were discriminated against because they were immigrants. They were not the only immigrants though, over 43 different nationalities lived on the iron range working in mines, logging or doing skilled jobs. Their common bond was that they were all immigrants. They learned to live next to each other and shared ethnic foods, their languages, customs and heritage. There were those that wanted to return to their homeland, but could not afford to. They continued to seek better employment. Once they found work and things got better, they were able to send money to relatives in Trentino and save enough money to reunite with their families, bringing their wives, children or other relatives to America.
The few first generation immigrants still living, are totally acclimated to America. Most of the members of the Trentini Triolesi del Minnesota club are second, third and fourth generations of Trentino immigrants. While some of the older generation can speak Italian, most of us do not. The younger generation concentrates on keeping and passing on family traditions such as history, heritage, religion, food, art and music. Education of their children was very important to the Trentini immigrants. The third generation of Trentino Americans are very well educated, many with college degrees. We are sure this will hold true for future generations. Various fields in which Trentini are employed are agriculture, banking, teaching, mining, medicine, hospitality, research and engineering. Those of Trentini descent are or have been doctors, teachers, artists, therapists, lawyers, dentists, secretaries, social workers, pharmacists, principals, business owners, loggers, construction workers and judges. We also have had a mayor, an opera singer and currently, the University of Minnesota athletic director is of Trentini descent. Many have continued to have strong ties to Trentino, through family, friends and the Trentini Tirolesi del Minnesota club. We are proud of a club member who received special recognition from the Governor of Minnesota. He started the Head Start program for preschool children, Second Harvest food shelf to feed those in need and a bus transportation program for seniors. He was the director of the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency. Though he is deceased, the Vince Gentilini Polenta Feed is held every April in his honor.
In 1995, it was important to a group of second generation Trentini to reestablish a Trentini club that was similar to the one that existed from 1913 through the late 1950’s. The Societa di Mutuo Soccorso Tirolese di Chisholm served as a fraternal health insurance provider. No one of Tyrolean descent ever went hungry and the widows and children were taken care of in times of illness and tragedy. The Trentini lodge provided a place to relax, play games, hold social events and develop bonds of friendship in this new land of America. The group that established the Trentini Tirolesi del Minnesota club in 1995, had fathers and husbands who emigrated from Trentino and were members of the original club. Our club presently has over 110 members.
Keeping close ties with Trentino is important to members, because it strengthens our knowledge of the land, history and traditions of our ancestors, as well as life in Trentino today. Members have accomplished this by attending conventions, reading books and visiting web sites about Trentino, speaking with or finding relatives and friends in Trentino and through communications with Trentini nel Mondo and the Province. Through attending club meetings and events, members are provided with ideas and opportunities to enhance their Trentini heritage that they can in turn, pass on to future generations.
The club holds annual events of a polenta dinner in the spring, a summer picnic, a Christmas party in the winter, and takes an active part in ethnic celebrations held in the state of Minnesota. Monthly meetings are held where general business is conducted, followed by a social gathering. Oral histories of members, club minutes, photos, immigration papers DVDs and videos are preserved and archived at the Iron Range Research Center in Chisholm. Members also partake in the biennial ITTONA conventions. 48 members took part in the 2002 convention held in Trento and the club organized a return trip to Trentino in 2005. The club hosted the 2012 ITTONA convention in Mountain Iron, MN. Future plans are to continue to function as an educational, social, cultural and historical source to enhance and carry on the Trentini heritage.
The two main sources of revenue are our yearly dues and the making and processing of antipasto that is sold to members and friends. From this revenue, we subsidize costs of our events, award scholarships and contribute to worthy organizations. Some of the organizations we have contributed to are a hospice program, an Italian singing group, the IV World Solidarity Day and food shelves in Hibbing, Chisholm and Virginia. We are an active, visible club that is highly engaged in our communities.